In the beginning of 2010 I did a top New York City theatrical experiences of the decade, so it follows I should so one for the 2010s. I did 16 entries in 2010, so I guess it also follows I should do 16 entries again.
IN ORDER OF THEIR FIRST APPEARANCE
Baby Universe: A Puppet Odyssey, January 7, 2011
Wakka Wakka Productions at Baruch Performing Arts Center
Wakka Wakka has become one of my favorite theater companies, and it all began with their production of Baby Universe in 2011. Both wildly innovative and incredibly emotional, the show used puppets to tell the tale of a government program to save the population of an unnamed, dying planet in a dying universe. I have since seen Wakka Wakka’s SAGA and Made in China, which were wonderful, but the expansiveness of Baby Universe eclipses them, and I still think back on that production as one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. It felt like these were puppets doing what they were born to do. Wakka Wakka doesn’t usually revive their shows in NYC, but I wish they’d bring back this one.
Sleep No More, March and April 2, 2011
The McKittrick Hotel
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to volunteer on this production. For five months, my sister and I helped make props, paint walls, clean rooms, organize taxidermied animals, lay bricks, and do any other sort of ad hoc task they might have needed me to do when I showed up at the warehouse that would soon become the McKittrick Hotel. I wanted to do something in theater where I’d get my hands dirty. I wanted to see this space transform. I wanted to show up at Sleep No More with a deeper understanding than the average theater-goer. And it was all worth it. I was able to see the show twice for a total of $10 and explore a labyrinthine space both familiar and surprising. Audiences walk the space of their own free will, wherever their eyes and feet take them. I found what I called a Narnia closet (a passageway in the back of a closet that takes you straight through to another hallway). I tried desperately for a one-on-one, during which a cast member pulls you into a room and recites a monologue for you, but I wound up with a semi-private pendulum dance show. After three hours, or three performance loops, we all gathered in the main hall for the final event. It was immersive theater at its most popular, but also at its most grand. And I was able to immerse myself in it fully. The show is still playing, but I haven’t been back since 2011. The show now exists as a memory of an amazing expererience. Like a dream.
An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, November 20, 2011
As the curtain came down on this show, I thought, what did I just see? Many and Patti were rolling around on chairs, telling old stories with the oddest banter, and bringing down the house performing their signature songs. My sister and I refer to this show to this day. It was Broadway legends being weird–I wish we could see that every day.
She Loves Me, December 5, 2011 and April, 2016
Roundabout Theatre Company, Benefit Reading and Broadway
Yes, there was the Broadway production in 2016, but I first saw this musical when Roundabout Theatre Company did a benefit reading of the show in 2011. The reading had some of the same cast members as the subsequent production, like Jane Krakowski, but it starred Kelli O’Hara in a role her voice was meant for. There wasn’t a set, but they did cute things like have leaves fall to portray the fall season, and since it was my first time experiencing the show, it was all magical. The 2016 production was magical in other ways–that set!!–but with She Loves Me, it’s hard to top your first time with a cast like that.
Gob Squad’s Kitchen: You’ve Never Had It So Good, January 22 and 23, 2012
The Public Theater
I got to see this show twice, two nights in a row. It turns out, it was the perfect show to see that way, as the cast changed roles every night. I had not heard of the theater company Gob Squad prior to this show, and it quickly became one of my favorite companies (I’ve since seen two other Gob Squad shows in NYC). A re-enactment of a few of Andy Warhol’s films from the 1960s (including the film Kitchen), the show was zany and oddly poignant as it posed: “In 100 years, people will look at this and say… ‘That’s why.'” Like other Gob Squad shows, audience members were brought on stage to take over the reenactments with headsets. I was glad not to be one of those people, in this case, because one of the films they were acting out was Kiss, but I felt part of the action regardless.
Melancholy Play and the 13P Implosion Party, July, 2012 and September 10, 2012
Sarah Ruhl’s poetic play set to music became one of the best musicals of the decade that no one talks about. Melancholy Play, with music by the brilliant Todd Almond (my first introduction to him), closed out the epic 13P series in a tiny space in Brooklyn (I don’t think I could find it again if I tried). A small cast sang the most gorgeous words and music with a chamber ensemble. I’ve been saying since I walked out of the theater that I needed desperately to hear that score again and would personally help any Kickstarter efforts (this offer still stands). I at least got to hear a couple of the songs again at the 13P Implosion party a few months later. I only caught the tail end of 13P with Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die and Melancholy Play, but I’ll remember those shows and the implosion party forever. What an amazing theater model so of its time and place and people that no one’s duplicated it since.
Einstein on the Beach, September, 2012
I wish they had given out t-shirts that said “I Survived Einstein on the Beach” because it definitely felt like I had been through an experience. An experience roughly 4.5-5 hours in length with no intermission. The audience could get up and go to the bathroom and/or walk around the back of the theater or lobby at any time, however, and I felt even more in control of my experience than if I had to deal with a traditional intermission. I don’t remember all the details of the piece, nor do I need to. I remember shapes and musical grooves and movement. I remember “I was in a prematurely air conditioned supermarket and there were all these aisles….” I was told to see this production because it would probably be my last chance to see it, at least in NYC. So I remember a collective feeling that we all needed to be there, in a theater together, for five hours.
Les Troyens, January 5, 2013
The Metropolitan Opera
Les Troyens made my top theatrical experiences of the 2000s, and I was so grateful that the Met brought this production back 10 years later. Seeing it again took nothing away from the first magical time of Laocoon and Dido and Cassandra, and this time I got to listen to Susan Graham. The singing and music and production were, once again, superb.
Fun Home, October, 2013 and April 25, 2015
The Public Theater and Broadway
I think there are many of us who don’t know where musical theater would be–or where we would be–without Fun Home. It brought an often unseen protagonist to the fore. It created thrilling, often cathartic song moments (“Ring of Keys,” “Telephone Wire”). It told a specific story but one in which everyone could find a part of themelves. Finally, a story that truly felt as though it were told from the female gaze reached Broadway. The show works on a proscenium stage–I enjoyed it off-Broadway at The Public–but there was a something about seeing it in the round on Broadway at Circle in the Square that elevated it. As I said in my piece for Women in Hollywood–like the song “Maps” in the show, the show drew a circle and fit us all inside.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, June 29, 2014 and January-April, 2015
When I saw Hedwig on Broadway for the first time, on Pride 2014 with Neil Patrick Harris, I didn’t know that my life was about to be changed. It wasn’t love at first sight, but I was intrigued enough to explore more about the show online and found videos of John Cameron Mitchell doing the show from the original run. I became obsessed because, clearly, no matter who is great in the role, John Cameron Mitchell is Hedwig. Then the amazing happened: John Cameron Mitchell played Hedwig for about four months on Broadway, and I saw it four times. Once in his first week before the injury, a second time a month later after the injury with the crate, and then two times in April before he left. The second time, we bought tickets in the back of the orchestra and magically got upgraded to the 6th row. But everything about each performance was magical because those of us who had missed JCM in Hedwig the first time around couldn’t believe we were seeing him play this role before our very eyes.
The Death of Klinghoffer, October 20, 2014
The Metropolitan Opera
I’ve been a fan of composer John Adams’s work, but what made this production so memorable was the controversy. We arrived at the opening performance to protests in front of the Met Opera house. There were two rounds of bag searches and a bag check. At one point during the evening, a protester in the front was escorted out. It could have been much worse, though, and that element of audience danger went hand in hand with the events of the opera–a hostage situation aboard a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. At one moment in the piece, one of the the terrorist characters breaks the fourth wall and walks into the audience up the aisle. I have never felt a theater so tense.
Runaways, December 12, 2014 and July 7, 2016
Curtis High School and Encores! Off-Center
I’ve loved Runaways since seeing the song “Every Now and Then” on a compilation of Tony Award musical numbers at the Paley Center back in 2005 or 2006. I then found the album and eventually listened to it straight through, realizing that every song was as compelling as the first one I’d heard. In 2014, I said to the universe, “I would love to see a high school do Runaways.” Soon after, a high school in NYC did Runaways, and I made the trek to Staten Island to see it. While the kids couldn’t do all the complex musical arrangements, it was so raw and exactly how I’d wanted to see it. Then about a year later, Runaways was announced for the Encores! Off-Center series, and I got to see it done professionally. Both productions complemented each other and I’m glad I got to see the show in two very different contexts. And now, because of that Encores production, more people know the show. Liz Swados actually passed away 4 years ago this week, and more people knowing her work was a wonderful tribute.
Significant Other, July 18, 2015 and February 25, 2017
Roundabout Theatre Company and Broadway
The target audience for Significant Other was small, but for those of us in our 20s and 30s who felt the toll of singledom, this play reached us like nothing else. Though it focused on the specifics of a single gay man losing his best girl friends to marriage, many others, especially women, could also relate. I first saw the show off-Broadway at Roundabout Theatre Company. I was sitting in the first row and in the final moments, I had to look away from Gideon Glick’s face above me for fear I would lose it. A nice older woman next to me offered me a tissue after it was over. I was thrilled when it transferred to Broadway so that I, and others, could see it again. And, in a different production–a reading at the JCC–I got to see it with my boyfriend on our six-month anniversary. Each time, the play resonated–even if you are in a relationship, the scars of being single in our couples-oriented society never really leave you. Thank goodness, there are people that get that and we have this play.
Bella: An American Tall Tale, September 30, 2016 and June 4 and 12, 2017
Dallas Theatre Center and Playwrights Horizons
My journey with Kirsten Childs’s musical began when I traveled to Dallas to see the show at Dallas Theater Center prior to its off-Broadway run. It was enjoyable there, but when I saw it in New York all the bumps had been smoothed out and it became one of my favorite musicals. Like Fun Home, it’s another example of why we need musicals written from the female gaze, and it’s also funny, poignant, serious, and often absurd (in the absurdist sense). The score is endlessly enjoyable–thank goodness they made a cast recording. I saw it a total of three times, and each time I found it more meaningful.
What the Constitution Means to Me, October 23, 2018 and July 22, 2019
New York Theatre Workshop and Broadway
I’m so glad I saw this play a second time on Broadway so I could catch more details of Heidi Schrek’s riveting and necessary story. From her recollections of competing in the Constitution contests to the stories of her family and domestic abuse–and how it’s all woven together–there couldn’t be a better play for the end of decade/end of democracy?
Is This a Room, January 9, 2019 and November 9 and 22, 2019
Half Straddle at The Kitchen and The Vineyard Theatre
Is this a room? In my favorite play of 2019, the title is so absurdist and yet raises so many questions about purpose. I first saw this play at The Kitchen in the beginning of the year, and I was blown away by what the director Tina Satter and her company Half Straddle did with the verbatim transcript of Reality Winner’s arrest. Then, the off-Broadway theater company The Vineyard picked up the show for the fall, and I got to see it two more times, each time even more riveting. I could dissect this play forever because at its simplistic level it’s about an interaction and the power dynamics between the FBI and an American citizen. But go deeper and you find yourself questioning if a room–and the country in which you’re living–really is the sturdy four walls it promised to be.
And an honorable mention for Slava’s Snowshow, December 11 and 30, 2019
I got to see this again–twice!–in the last few weeks of the decade. Thank you to Slava for coming back to NYC. Here’s what I wrote about it 10 years ago: I saw this in its last week and loved it so much I had to go back a second time before it left town (I also saw it a third time on Broadway last year). I think deep down I’ve always loved clowns– one of my favorite television shows is I Love Lucy, after all– and Slava’s Snowshow brought all of my latent feelings to the surface. Physical comedy combined with profound sadness apparently results in amazing theatre. The snowstorm at the end is indeed an incredible experience, but there’s something so purely hilarious about someone falling off a tilted chair.